Underlying Theme: Authenticity
I had an epiphany yesterday: My sense of surreality in dealing with some people and situations comes directly from feeling like they are responding to something other than the real me.
Have you ever read The Invisibile Man? It might be from Ralph Ellison. I read it at least a dozen years ago. I had previously attempted to read it about five or six years earlier, but found it annoying. It seemed disjointed to me. When I picked it up again, it dawned on me. That’s the point! The book goes from one weirdly unrelated scenario to another in the life of this black man. The way this man is treated has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with him. Rather, it is all about other people’s reactions to who they think he is or should be. People are not seeing him at all, only their own projections. The way they treated him was not personal, in the sense of good or bad being directed at him as a distinct individual. Once I got the point, the book was quite engaging.
That’s why I felt like the email from Barry’s sister was oddly inappropriate, but could not initially figure out why. Nothing she said was bad or wrong—just irrelevant to my concerns and urgent issues. It would be kind of like knowing that someone’s home was just destroyed by a fire or hurricane and then emailing them happy birthday wishes. The only response is, “Huh? Really?” I said a lot of emotionally-laden things this past summer and her response was, “Happy birthday!” She is not responding to the real me at all. Whatever relationship I have with her is not reality-based.
I can get along fabulously with people, if I just tell them what they want to hear. I concluded this summer that such relationships are generally not worth the time and effort required for their maintenance. I am at a point in my life where I would truly prefer for someone to get in my face and scream, “I hate you, you f*****g b***h! How dare you speak to me like that!” than to send me birthday wishes. Then I would at the very least feel heard, like my message had gotten through even if it were not well received.
This sense of surreality has presented itself forcefully. For example, a few weeks ago, I almost got run off the road. The person simply cut into my lane as if I did not exist. Later that day, a lady (I thought was looking directly at me) almost ran me over with a shopping cart in the parking lot of the grocery store. Nothing personal.
I also had the same issue at church—and it was part of why I left. The very first Holy Week Wednesday I attended, a couple of Greek teenagers stepped on my foot. They didn’t apologize because they did not notice me. I did not exist in their world. They literally did not see me. Later, the priest would treat me like crap, but I knew that, since he treated everyone like crap, it wasn’t personal.
That’s the point: sometimes, things need to be personal. Sometimes, when things are not personal, it gets difficult to imagine why I should continue maintaining a relationship with a person or organization. If my presence is not noticed, perhaps my absence won’t be, either.
Zen is part of how I try to ground myself in reality. I notice my breath, my feet, my heartbeat, etc. This is part of the antidote to living in my head, spinning around in my thoughts while being oblivious to the outside world. Zen is the fount of authenticity.
I confess that I have presented many masks to the world. Often, when people are not responding to the real me, it is because I have never shown it to them. I remember, in my early 20s, wondering if there even was such a thing as a “real me.” I acted one way at school, another at work, another with my husband, another with my friends, and a completely different way with my parents. I felt like I had multiple personality disorder. The concept of integrity was nonsensical at the time.
Back then, it was simply survival. I had to do whatever was necessary to get the rent paid, get good grades, get along with my dysfunctional family, get along with Barry’s dysfunctional family…I do not regret the many masks I wore back then because it was absolutely essential. Without any real social skills, pretense kept me fed and warm.
But now I am pushing fifty. The pretense was mandatory in the past, but just feels icky today. The repression of my feelings that was needed back then can only create unwanted physical and emotional symptoms now. I crave authenticity today. When I don’t get it, I feel it, and it feels deeply offensive.
Today, I went to a respite care place to find out about how to get help with Barry. I broke down and cried at just the prospect of getting some relief. It will likely cost a lot of money. But the alternative is for my life to not be worth living. Just to be seen and heard was huge. To have my needs acknowledged at all was profound.
What I got out of today was that I have to do whatever it takes to take care of myself, even if it costs a pretty penny and drains us of some of our savings.
I don’t know who or what I am, still. But I do know one thing for certain: I would rather have the real me rejected than to have the fake me praised or to just not be acknowledged as existing. Go ahead. Hate me. Just hate the real me.